8 Common Psychological Biases: With Which Do You Identify?

· June 7, 2016

Why are people so superstitious? Why do people sometimes ignore concrete evidence and get caught up in the impossible? How is it that a horoscope can seem so right?

The human brain is both a creator and receptor of stimulants, experiences, emotions, and reasoning. 

As years pass, the brain builds up a solid base on which we develop the psychological reality of our day to day life. In general, we depend on this base of understanding to lead us down the right path in both our professional and personal lives.

“For our brain, it is better that we are told a consistent story rather than a true story.”

-Eduardo Punset-

brain puzzle piece psychological

However, the perfect machine that our brain so often is also has some missing parts, and makes mistakes. Some mistakes may be due to overconfidence, and others from a lack of it.

In contrast to errors that we are capable of noticing, like those of perception (confusing things like color, distance, speed, or depth), there are others that we are unable to grasp. We are unable to see or feel them, and hence unable to fix them.


Heuristic and cognitive biases

A bias is essentially a prejudice. It refers to a deceptive, skewed, or incorrect interpretation of reality that we create and, in our minds, believe to be logical. We do this by only honing in on certain available information, and discarding the rest.

Heuristic biases (also considered mental shortcuts) are both absolutely necessary to our daily functioning, but also potentially wrong and unwise. 

The principal idea is that we are not prepared to accept all of the information we receive through our five senses.

Processing, organizing, analyzing, and integrating information so that we can access it at a later point is a slow and exhausting process that can drain our mental resources.

“Complex thought requires effort and when it comes time to choose between two paths, our brain will often choose the easier one. Mental effort means exerting energy, and the brain tends to economize.”

-Daniel Kahneman-

man standing in front of maze psychological

So, the mind utilizes these shortcuts to release itself from having to work too hard. It is one of the strategies our brain uses, and is just as real as logical reasoning or the process of trial and error.

Some known, and unknown, psychological “shortcuts” or biases  

In the world of psychology, various and diverse experiments have been carried out in order to determine if these kinds of shortcuts and biases truly exist. 

In the past few years, some of the earlier experiments and studies have been reproduced. These have been able to confirm the existence of psychological biases.

  • Confirmation bias: We choose and process the information that fits in with our expectations and coincides with our preexisting ideas and prejudices, regardless of whether or not it is true. We are affected by this way of thinking mostly when emotions are involved. It can also be applicable in situations in which we feel the need to support and protect our fundamental beliefs.
  • Self-justification bias: Sometimes, we must make decisions that have very difficult explanations. This brain function keeps us from torturing ourselves too much because of these decisions, or blaming ourselves too much for our failures. We are always able to find reasons to justify ourselves, no matter how questionable those reasons may be.
  • Retrospective bias: How many times have we thought: how did I not seeing this coming? This happens when something has already happened, and we look back and see all of the signs that were telling us it was going to happen. This is a common feeling that emerges unjustly, from looking at the past with the advantage of knowing what happens next.
  • “Sunk Cost” bias: This is what happens when we resist abandoning or quitting something that we have already invested time, money, effort and dreams in, even when there is evidence telling us that it is impossible and unrealistic.
  • The fallacy of the gambler: This bias stems from games of chance; gamblers often believe that if you land on a certain color or roll a certain number repeatedly, change is surely imminent and impending. In reality, probability tells us that there is exactly the same probability this time as the past 15 times: 50%.
  • The rule of reciprocity: We tend to have more favorable opinions about the behavior of individuals who are part of our social circle or particular group than we do about individuals who are part of a “different” group.
  • Contagious acceptance: This is when we believe that contact or relationships with members of different ethnic groups is enough to reduce the prejudices about those who are different.
  • The Forer or Barnum effect: This type of bias is key when considering the effects of one’s horoscope. We value and give importance to our horoscope with complete confidence in what it is says, even though it uses general personality descriptions. We specifically make it our own, even though the phrases are vague, imprecise, and could be applicable to the lives of millions of people.

If you don’t recognize yourself in any of these psychological biases, it is likely that you have unintentionally fallen into another one: to the point of being blind. That is to say, you see the faults of others, but never your own.

Psychological biases and heuristic tendencies are necessary and useful although many times they may inevitably lead us down a path that is more bitter than sweet.

“If our brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so stupid that, in any case, we still wouldn’t be able to understand it.”

-Jostein Gaarder-